How many devices does it take?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 10, 2012

As our lives become more enveloped by ever-improving, ever-evolving, ever-more capable technology, extra devices tend to seep into our lives to fill every possible nook and cranny. One might carry a laptop everywhere they go only to be an arm's legth away from their mobile work space. Another might toss a tablet in their bag before leaving the house each morning for some entertainment on their commute to work or for taking notes in class. And who even dares leave the house for a full day of activities without a smartphone in their pocket?

Yesterday, Google's Tim Bray asked a fantastic question on his personal blog. It's one that has been on my mind quite a bit lately, especially as more devices start to fill my bag on a daily basis: "Does it make sense to carry around two, three, or more portable computing devices?"

With so many intermediate steps in affordable technology (the Nexus 7 being a perfect example), it's easy to find yourself carrying more than one device each day. Bray made note of his day-to-day configuration, stating that he carries a 15-inch or larger laptop, a "one-hander" (or 7-inch) tablet and a smartphone every day. And he asked for readers' input with their own setup, selecting from a list of five choices:

  1. Regular-size laptop; say 15"-screen or higher
  2. Skinny laptop i.e. Air at 13" or even 11"
  3. Big tablet at ~10" as in current iPads
  4. One-hander tablet, typically at 7"
  5. Handset, 3½"-5"

(Bray's setup is a 1, 4, 5.)

Lately, my satchel has been filled with 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 … and another 5. That puts my configuration at six devices that I have been carrying with me as of late. I will be the first to admit that this is excessive. But, for the most part, I can justify everything in my bag.

As you all probably know by now, I have learned how to maximize the usefulness of my iPad, and I have turned it into a hardcore writing machine. It's perfect for focused, long form writing as it keeps me from getting too distracted and allows me to make it through an entire day on a single charge (versus charging my laptop two or three times). For the past two weeks, I have also been using it for a few games before bed at night, social media and most of my leisure browsing. (Chrome for iOS has made a huge difference.)

The 13.3" MacBook Air (base model, 2011), which is my computer of choice, is my clean-up hitter. I usually write from the iPad and switch to the computer to refine and publish my work – that is, unless I'm in a bind and need to crunch time. I also use it to tie multiple cloud storage services together, syncing them from the same directory in my file system. It's thin, lightweight, and I even forget it's in my bag sometimes. But it's still powerful enough to handle just about anything I can throw at it.

For the past week, the Nexus 7 has almost tirelessly been at my side. It's a great little tablet, and I'm with Bray 100 percent in that I could use a small tablet in the place of one of my smartphones if it had its own data connection. But now that my review period is over with the Nexus, I imagine it will occupy space on my night stand rather than in my bag. There may still be a few days it can tag along, though.

Last are the smartphones. I've been carrying the iPhone 4S with only one short sabbatical since it released in October 2011. It's my go-to phone for taking pictures and sharing them to social accounts. Lately, however, I have been giving a lot more attention to my Android handsets. Now that Jelly Bean is (unofficially) available, I've been using the Galaxy Nexus that I purchased last week. But I have also been carrying around the HTC One X, planning on switching back to it at some point in the not too distant future.

So why so many devices?

I don't need them all; this isn't about needs, it is entirely about preferences and comfort. I could get by with a 2, 3, 5 (that's a "skinny laptop", a 10-inch tablet and a smartphone) configuration with ease. And that's what my setup normally looks like, except I always carry two phones. The main reason for that is that I enjoy both the iPhone – mainly for its camera – and Android. If there were one Android phone with a camera even remotely close to the iPhone 4S shooter, I would consider consolidating to just one smartphone.

So, at the very least, my messenger bag is filled with a 2, 3, 5, 5 every single day. What about you, readers? How many devices do you carry? Do you need them all? How many does it take?